Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a bill that would overhaul the way Congress deals with sexual harassment up for a vote.
In a letter to McConnell dated March 2, which was first obtained by BuzzFeed News, Grassley wrote, “The House of Representatives has already passed these reforms, and it is now time for the Senate to do the same. I respectfully request that my bill be brought to the Senate floor for a vote as quickly as possible.”
The bill is nearly identical to legislation that passed the House in early February and that would require members of Congress to reimburse the federal government for settlements they paid in response to allegations of sexual misconduct or other complaints made against them personally. It would also overhaul the Office of Compliance, the body responsible for handling sexual harassment claims and other employment issues in Congress. Since its inception in 1995, the secretive OOC has facilitated taxpayer-funded settlements for allegations against members and their offices.
The House moved quickly to pass this legislation and a separate resolution addressing these issues after several high-profile sexual harassment allegations against members of Congress came to light. BuzzFeed News first reported that former Rep. John Conyers paid a more than $27,000 settlement out of his offices budget in a wrongful dismissal complaint that alleged years of sexual harassment.
The Senate has not yet taken any action on those proposals, although senators said their goal is to push something through before the end of March. Both the House and Senate did pass legislation at the end of last year requiring all members, staff, and interns to go through annual sexual harassment training.
“I think this would be a very good thing to get done this month,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who has been involved in discussions on the issue, told reporters on Tuesday, adding that legislation to address sexual harassment on the Hill could be wrapped into a bill to avoid a government shutdown at the end of March.
“Sen. [Amy] Klobuchar, Sen. [Shelley Moore] Capito and others are working with me on that and our staffs to see if we can get in the right place with a bill that will go back to the House the right way. We’d like to get this resolved and like to get it resolved this month,” Blunt added.
Asked in February if the issue was stalled in the Senate, given how quickly it moved through the House, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said the issue was more about a busy schedule in the Senate up to this point.
“I think we are still pushing the envelope in having this discussion. I think the only reason why we may be delayed a little is because now, unlike the House, we’re debating on DREAMers right now, and this is taking the forefront,” Cortez Masto said last month. “But that to me is still an issue I’m pushing, and I know my colleagues are as well, and we hope to have something concrete done at the end of the day.”
A spokesperson for McConnell said Tuesday that the leader didn’t have any immediate announcements on plans for the bill, noting “ongoing discussions among our members.” Grassley’s legislation is currently sitting in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.